The Transportation Security Administration agreed on a deal last month worth as much as $50 million to buy new uniforms for rank-and-file agents, despite concerns that imminent budget cuts would result in furloughs and 90-minute flight delays.
Agency officials signed the contract just days before the start of the $85 billion in federal budget cuts known as sequester.
On Feb. 22, the same day the contract was signed, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the sequester cuts could result in flight delays as long as 90 minutes at major airports in Chicago, New York and San Francisco and warned about furloughing air traffic controllers.
Then, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who also has warned about furloughs, said this week that long lines already are forming at major airports, a claim disputed by airport officials.
Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn on Wednesday criticized the uniform contract – and the timing.
“I find it deeply disturbing that as Secretary Napolitano is running around scaring people by saying she is going to have to furlough employees because of sequester, that she would also spend $50 million of taxpayer money on new uniforms,” Blackburn said. “This is a classic failure in leadership.”
She also said the Homeland Security Department has the flexibility in sequester to “cut waste, fraud and abuse from its budget.”
“Instead, Secretary Napolitano is making the active decision to furlough personnel and is trying to manufacture a scenario where passengers have to wait in longer lines.”
The one-year contract with VF Imagewear Inc. provides new hires with such clothing and accessories as shirts, pants, a belt and socks.
However, the company, better known for its Lee and Wrangler brand jeans, can agree to extend the contract an additional 12 months. About half of the company’s clothing is made in Mexico.
The deal does not include shoes or dry cleaning, according to CNSNews.com, which first reported the story. TSA did not respond to requests for comment.
Blackburn also is taking issue with a union-negotiated deal in which TSA security officers get a higher uniform allowance than combat Marine lieutenants, who receive a one-time allowance of $400.
She called the deal “the largest collective bargaining agreement since WWII.”